Dwarf Tomatoes

Discussion in 'Fruit and Veg Gardening' started by Daniel W, Apr 12, 2022.

  1. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    This is my second year growing dwarf tomatoes. They are not all that common yet so I thought I would create a thread about them.

    First, what are dwarf tomatoes. Dwarf tomatoes are mostly the same as regular tomatoes except the plants have short interstems the stem between leaf nodes. Because of the short interstem, the plants grow about one half as tall as regular tomato plants. The leaves are different, tending to be wrinkly (rugose) and sometimes look to me like they are thicker. They are not entirely new - there was a dwarf French variety in the late 1800's that way be the ancestor of all of the modern dwarf varieties. A few varieties were developed by tomato growers during the early 20th century but then there wasn't much interest until the internet age.

    A group of modern tomato enthusiasts got together and crossed many heirloom varieties with dwarf varieties to create new types. They did great work, and their story is told here. They called their group "The Dwarf Tomato Project". They did really amazing work and developed many interesting new tomato varieties, all nonhybrid so gardeners can save their own seeds.

    I am trying to remain an active gardener, doing what I love the most. Age and illness have made me much less able to do the tasks I used to. I'm doing the best I can, using more human scale fruit trees, raised beds and large planters. I thought dwarf tomatoes might be helpful, so I decided to try them. Some of the varieties I tried were from the Dwarf Tomato Project (via Victory Seeds) and some were those old dwarf varieties from the early 20th century (same source) or other small plant types.

    The ones I grew last year were:

    Alpatieva 905A - an old small determinate Soviet variety. The plants were small, maxing out at under 20 inches. They had the earliest tomatoes, small (ping pong ball size), quite tasty and productive, then died. I'm not sure if it was blight or if their time was up. Not growing in 2022.

    Extreme Bush [I originally posted this as Extreme Dwarf which was wrong. Caught the error later on re-reading]. An old, originally German variety. Small, determinate plants. Easy in containers.

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    These were very productive. Heirloom tomato flavor. Still ping pong ball size. The plants have weird leaves that wrinkle upwards. I saved seeds for this year.

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    Dwarf Champion Improved - early 20th century variety. Larger tomatoes than Extreme Dwarf, pink color. It was in a bad location, saved seeds and trying this year. (I didn't take a photo).

    BrandyFred. A Brandywine descendent, with big potato-leaf plants. It was later producing than the others and not that productive, but the tomatoes were big and very delicious. I saved seeds for this year.

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    There were others I can also describe my experiences if there is interest (Tanunda Red, Dwarf CC McGee, Clare Valley Pink).

    I found that using a brown paper mulch helps tremendously to prevent blight. I will do that this year.

    They still can fall over especially when loaded with tomatoes, so they need stakes. Just not as tall as regular tomatoes.

    The plants can be grown a bit longer before planting outside, because they are smaller.

    As far as I know, there are no hybrid dwarf tomatoes (bush type yes, but those are determinates), so modern disease resistance is lacking. They have to be treated as heirloom type tomatoes, and a disease preventing mulch is important.

    They are quite convenient for tall or short raised beds and containers.

    Flavor for the ones I tried was all excellent.

    Productivity depends at least partly on the variety.

    I also grew a cherry dwarf variety, Dwarf Johnson Cherry. They were good, pink, cherry tomatoes but I thought not as outstanding as Supersweet 100 or Sungold. Still, I saved seeds for this year.

    Again, I can say more if there is interest. This year I'm trying some others, repeating some from saved seeds, and refining my growing methods. I'm only growing three regular type, and two bush type as well.
     

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    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
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  3. mart

    mart Strong Ash

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    Interesting ! Let us know your results !
     
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  4. danny_b10

    danny_b10 New Seed

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    Hmmm. Now, I'm thinking of growing some tomatoes.
     
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  5. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Thanks for posting this Daniel. I really appreciate it. :) You have done an excellent job at staying invested in what makes you happy, while working with a tough situation physically.

    My interest in dwarfs is the size and slower growth. I have to start my tomatoes so early because of my short growing season. By the time mine are ready for transplant at 10 weeks, some can be a little unruly. I worry about moving them about too much to harden them off etc.

    I'm wondering if the dwarfs would be better suited to my 10 week in the pot/transplant time line. A little easier to manage.

    May I ask do you find that they set their fruit all at once - more like a determinate? Or do they continue to blossom and produce fruit as the growing season allows?

    How did you find the fruit production volume on the BrandyFred, as opposed to something like a Bush Early Girl?

    Annnddd....:nerdy::nerdy: do they take longer to produce fruit ( maturity date) than say your full size tomatoes?

    Inquisition over friend....for now :D Thanks again for taking the time to post this.
     



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  6. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    Hi @Melody Mc. ,

    Those are good questions. Of course there is infinite variety and no one size fits all.

    My experience so far is that dwarf varieties behave like heirloom and not hybrids. My experience with hybrids are they produce significantly more and faster, and heirlooms tend to produce fewer and later but for me, have richer flavors.

    Most of the dwarfs are indeterminate. The difference is the short interstem. So if a nondwarf grows 7 feet tall, a dwarf probably grows 3 1/2 feet tall but with the same number of leaves. I thought the dwarf types that I grew last year were generally a bit later than the nondwarf hybrids.

    Bush Early Girl was much earlier and much more productive than my dwarf types. It produced for a long season for me even though it is determinate.

    Even though technically a determinate and not a dwarf, Extreme Bush was only about 22 inches tall max, was the most productive, earliest, and had very good flavor. It produced over a fairly long season, too. This year I'm starting couple more of those, a month after the first, to spread out the season.

    My own goal is to narrow it down to about eight varieties. A few traditional red slicers, a couple of cherry types, and a few extra rich heirloom flavor type. I think this year I have about a dozen varieties not including sauce tomatoes.

    The new ones I'm trying this year are among the oldest - Livingston Dwarf Stone (first marketed in 1902), New Big Dwarf (1908) and Golden Dwarf Champion (1899). I'm giving Dwarf Champion Improved, CC McGee, and Tenunda Red, a last chance. I think Extreme Bush and BrandyFred are in my "I will always grow" group. "always" being an understandable limited term :).

    One issue for me is having some seed security and budget friendly. I can save seeds from nonhybrids, which is a factor. I can continue growing Early Girl Bush and Sungold, but I want most of mine to be my own seeds :fingerscrossed:

    This year an interesting new one for me is Reisentraube - an old East German (I think) cherry tomato described as having heirloom tomato flavor. My seedlings of that (seeds From Baker Creek) so far are smaller than the dwarf types. I don't know what that means :worried:

    Not sure this answered your questions despite me being verbose. If I remember, I'll post photos of some dwarf plants side by side with regular size plants, as they grow.
     
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  7. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Thank you so much Daniel. This was very helpful. You were not at all verbose.

    Photos during your garden's growth would be wonderful if you get a chance. You are absolutely right about the cost of seeds and saving your own. Up until three years ago when I was working, I always just bought bedding plants. which was about a six hour return trip at the time. Life and financial changes have me being as cost effective and close to home as possible now. I have enough seeds for the Early Girl Bush for two years, then may consider just going to Early Girl again so I can save seed.

    If you had to guess Daniel, how many tomatoes would you say you harvested from the Extreme Bush? If it was too many to guess that is okay...and a good sign. hahaha. I have two large pots in my greenhouse that I use for tomatoes, but the plant can't be too large or it impedes sunlight for others, and gets in the way. This sounds like it may be a good solution.

    Do you still have to have an 18 inch pot/bed size for a dwarf tomato?

    My tomatoes have to go back under remay and heat lamps at night, because of frost, usually by the end of August. Usually first or second week in September they have to be harvested and come in to ripen. Growing time is something I have to consider for sure, but with a 10 week start with a dwarf....maybe? :rolleyes:

    This is exciting to think about trying. Vitory seeds will ship to Canada but it will take planning and patience with the shipping, exchange and duty. Once I settle on a variety to try, I'll see what I can sort out.
     
  8. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    Here is the update on this year's tomatoes, mostly dwarf.

    These are Reisentraube and Dwarf Johnson Cherry. Reisentraube is not described as a dwarf variety but mine is behaving like one so far - stocky short stem and thick leaves. Reisentraube is supposedly a German heirloom with richly flavored, red, cherry tomatoes. Dwarf Johnson Cherry has nice pink cherry tomatoes. Mine is from home-saved seeds.

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    Here are most of my other dwarf varieties. So far they all have the stocky stems, short interstems, stocky thick leaves typical for dwarf tomatoes. One is potato-leafed (BrandyFred) and I forgot to show Dwarf CC McGee, a pale yellow potato-leaf variety. About half of these are from home-saved seeds.

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    Then here are some comparisons. Bush Early Girl is a determinate hybrid. Extreme Bush is an old German heirloom that, just to make things confusing, is determinate AND dwarf. The Sungold and Honeybee varieties with blue labels, I started a few weeks later. Unfortunately for the photo, the ones I started at the same time as the dwarfs were blooming and I gave them to a neighbor who has a warmer location.

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    This year most of my tomatoes are dwarf types, so I don't have a lot of comparisons. As they grow larger, the difference in growth habit should become much more pronounced.

    The black containers are 5" tall. The reddish-brown ones are 3" tall.

    By the way, these were planted about March 5. Here is one of the seedling six packs on March 10.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
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  9. S-H

    S-H Hardy Maple

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    Tomatoes were the first thing I grew in my life, when I was just 3 years old I think. Smell of the tomato plant leaves actually triggers a sense of deep nostalgia in me... But most of all, it's so relaxing to watch every yellow flower of it produce a tiny tomato. Which at first is green, then after reaching it's full size turns orange, until finally it becomes red - I would take the seeds from a tomato I had grown. Then replant them. Thus starting the entire process all over again! Tomatoes grow here the entire year. So I kept doing this endlessly! :cool:
     
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  10. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Thank you for the photos and update.

    How big of a container do you move them into Daniel? I have four dwarf Red Robin Cherry tomatoes that I am debating putting all four into a very large pot, or moving them into pots of their own so I can move them around a wee bit in the greenhouse.

    The Extreme Bush you have really interests me. You mentioned they produce less fruit than say an Early Girl Bush, but I wonder if I could put more in my 3ft X 14 ft bed to compensate.
     
  11. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    Update on Dwarf Tomatoes.

    @Melody Mc. sorry I missed your question. Some people grow them in 5 gallon containers (buckets with holes drilled). Last year I grew some in ten gallon containers which are better for not drying out too fast. I had two Extreme Bush in an appox 10 gallon flower box and they did well.

    I'm trying to prevent fungal disease by using a paper mulch, but with a heavy rain season this Spring the paper started deteriorating. Today I covered that with a cardboard mulch. I think what I did last year, using brown paper bags, was heavier paper.

    The thick wrinkly (rugose) leaves are typical for dwarf tomato varieties.

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    Some of the individual varieties-

    New Big Dwarf
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    Extreme Dwarf. This variety has a trait with leaves curling upward, normal for this variety. (Edit: the name is really " Extreme Bush")
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    Livingston Dwarf Stone
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    There are others but they look similar. Dwarf CC McGee has potato-type leaves.

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    I have a couple of others that are behind these, that I set out later.

    Most are blooming now. I gave them a dose of tomato fertilizer too.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2022
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  12. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Thank you Daniel. No worries at all to missing the question. I stress about not knowing if someone has asked one and how to know if they do.

    I really appreciate you saying in the beginning that the dwarf tomatoes have a different leaf growth and structure. After all of my terrible experiences within the last four years with herbicide contamintion, ( think I may still be in the main greenhouse bed - not sure yet - just ugh) it was great comfort to me to know that the leaf structure was supposed to be different.

    I had to deviate from the paper mulch because our winds are just so darn fierce every day this year.

    These are the Red Robin Cherries.

    IMG_2034.JPG
     
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  13. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Your tomatoes look amazing and so healthy!
     
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  14. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    Those Red Robins look great! I tried to grow some, but had a bad batch of Miracle Gro potting soil and they died. probably herbicide contaminated. From your photo, they have the genetic dwarf trait with rugose foliage. Looks like you'll have fresh tomatoes soon!
     
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  15. Melody Mc.

    Melody Mc. Young Pine

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    Hey Daniel - thank you so much for your insight into the dwarf tomato growth behaviour. I've been able to explain it to my kids who came up and cocked an eye brow at them, and to a neighbour. The container growing has been wonderful. I can see what you said about disease/blight?. My leaves did become unwell as soon as I became a bit slack about splashing on them. Next year I'm going to try a different approach and follow your lead, with some sort of soil cover or mulch. They are so low to the ground, it is almost impossible to get the dwarf leaves up offf of the soil without pruning a whole plant hahaha.

    Thanks again.

    Mel
     
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  16. Daniel W

    Daniel W Young Pine

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    The Extreme Dwarf Bush tomatos are producing well. So is EarlybGirl. Now we are getting nice yellows from DwarfGolden Champion are very tasty, like Lemon Boy.

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